By MADOLINE MARKHAM
A scenic trail twists and turns 1.8 miles along Yellow Leaf Creek through Dunnavant Valley.
Part of the public trail is an old road built in the early 1900s and later replaced by the current County Road 41. Other segments wind along the curves of the flowing creek over rock gardens and bridges built by Eagle Scouts.
The Dunnavant Valley Greenway is about a 40-minute walk in one direction.
Native plants like the sycamore, yellow pine, mountain laurel, wild ginger, ferns, yellow woods violet and Japanese privet line the creek, which runs through the Narrows and eventually down to the Coosa River. The area is ripe for exploration, a family hike or a trail run.
The trail parallels County Road 41 from Highway 280 headed north toward Mt Laurel, but once you’re on it, it’s easy to forget that you’re anywhere near cars and anything but nature.
“We wanted to make it so people could enjoy the scenery around them,” said Ward Tishler, president of the citizens group The Friends of the Dunnavant Valley Greenway. “That was the driving force behind it.”
The Friends first envisioned the trail and worked closely with Shelby County, who adopted the plan in 2004 and constructed it in 2009 and 2010.
The parking lot with trail access opened in 2011, and the very next day there were cars in the parking lot.
“We were really amazed how many people started using it and were enthusiastic about it,” Tishler said.
Tishler, the visionary of the group, dreams of the trail going under 280 and eventually connecting to Oak Mountain State Park and Chelsea. For now, though they are just working to expand the trail in smaller segments along County Road 41 past its current stretch from Soccer Blast to a parking lot 1.3 miles north on County Road 41 toward Mt Laurel.
Virginia Randolph, secretary of the Friends and longtime Dunnavant Valley resident, was impressed how the county did not disturb the vegetation along the trail that highlights the botanical life of the valley.
“The geological formation on this valley is different from the other side of Oak Mountain, so the plant life is so different,” Randolph said. “That’s probably why you see plants like ginger here.”
Randolph recalled how a Birmingham Botanical Gardens curator once found plants they did not have at the gardens in the valley. She sees a bald eagle who she believes lives in or at least frequents the valley. It is these things that she hopes people experience on the trail.
“We are so rich if we look around us,” Randolph said. “Alabama is the fifth most diverse state in vegetation in the country. It’s important to preserve the things that make Alabama what it is.”
The Friends hope to start an environmental education program on the trail to educate the public on plants and animals in the area.
“People moved out here for the beauty and rural atmosphere,” Tishler said. “We want to keep that character.”
280 Living met with Randolph and Tishler for lunch at Stones Throw to learn more about the trail and The Friends of Dunnavant Valley.
How did the greenway get started?
Mt Laurel resident Elton B. Stephens, Jr. first organized The Friends of Dunnavant Valley Greenway, Inc. in 2001 to improve quality of life and traffic safety on County Road 41.
The group adopted a vision in cooperation with Shelby County for a greenway to connect Highway 280 to Highway 25 from ridge to ridge in Dunnavant Valley. In 2004 the County agreed to build and maintain the project, and in 2009 construction began. The original plan was for it to run in the right of way off Highway 41, but it ended up working best to run alongside the road in the woods.
Today the trail is on a combination of county property and easements from landowners.
What is next for the greenway?
The next phase will connect the parking lot to the farm in Mt Laurel; after that they plan to connect to Mt Laurel Elementary School and hence with the town of Mt Laurel. Their hope is for students to be able to walk to the farm from the school for cooperative education.
What else do The Friends of Dunnavant Valley Greenway do?
The organization, which is open to all residents and business owners in the area, supports efforts to conserve the natural character and beauty of the county and responsible sustainable development. They advocate traditional neighborhoods, smart growth and respect for rural character.
“When the greenway becomes a topic of conversation in the community, it fuels more community change,” Tishler said. “It encourages cooperation between people and government when the people are more interested.”
The organization also encourages people to voice their opinions and make suggestions for community improvements.
“We need to take things step-by-step predicated by what the citizens of Dunnavant Valley want,” Randolp said.
The Dunnavant Valley Greenway is accessible behind Field #1 at Soccer Blast or at a gravel parking lot located on Highway 41, 1.3 miles from Highway 280 or 1.8 miles from Mt Laurel. For more information on the greenway, visit dvgblogspot.blogspot.com.
The Friends of Dunnavant Valley Greenway welcome additional members and input from area residents.